St George-Illawarra’s Euan Aitken has helped the Dragons to NRL victory over the Newcastle Knights.St George-Illawarra coach Paul McGregor says his side have learnt from lessons past after beating Newcastle 30-12 to go undefeated over the first month of the NRL season for the first time in the merged club’s history.
The Dragons were superb in attack again on Sunday at WIN Stadium as they laid on five tries to take their average score for the season to 34.
The win keeps the Dragons first, a position they’ve previously held in 2015 and 2017 before failing to fire a shot in the finals.
But in 2018, they look at different team with Ben Hunt joining Gareth Widdop at the helm and James Graham forming part of a dominant forward pack.
Widdop finished third in last year’s Dally M count but looks as if he could take the top spot, given the freedom he is playing with while Hunt is in charge of organising the attack.
In just their fourth game together, they combined directly for two tries in a four-minute period midway through the first half to take control of a match they never relinquished.
The first came when they both threw long cut-out balls before Tim Lafai provided a falling flick pass for Nene Macdonald, while moments later they created enough space for Matt Dufty to put Euan Aitken in.
Dufty and Macdonald are also both becoming strike weapons in a backline that had its potency and x-factor questioned before the start of the season.
“It’s a different group, the balance of our squad is much improved,” McGregor said, when asked about the side’s past collapses.
“We’ve certainly learned a lot as a group and coaching staff. I’m the first to say I’m not the most experienced coach but I’m into my fourth year now.
“We’ve brought in a halfback and an experienced front-rower. The kids are in their second and third year after their debut. The depth of our squad is deeper.
“We just need to not get too high after wins and not too low after losses. Because that’s part of the game.”
The Dragons were as clinical in attack as they were brilliant on Sunday.
They completed at 83 per cent, while starting forwards Paul Vaughan and James Graham both topped 140 metres.
Jack de Belin produced bell-ringing tackles to create errors in the lead up to both tries Widdop and Hunt engineered together, while Leeson Ah Mau scored his first try in almost four years.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s limited backline depth will be tested after Tautau Moga suffered a fourth season-ending knee injury scoring the game’s opening try, before the Dragons took control and played the Knights out of the match.
“He’s had a bit of history there unfortunately, and he’s obviously devastated,” coach Nathan Brown said.